Joan Merriam Smith was an American aviator (1936-1965), best known for completing a record-breaking and historic solo flight around the world in 1964. Following the equatorial Amelia Earhart route, Joan became the first person in history to successfully complete a solo flight around the world at the equator, as well as the first person to complete the Amelia Earhart route. Among her list of accolades:

  • the first person in history to fly solo around the world at the equator;
  • the first person to complete the longest single solo flight around the world;
  • the first woman to fly a twin-engine aircraft around the world;
  • the first woman to fly the Pacific Ocean from west to east in a twin-engine plane;
  • the first woman to receive an airline transport rating at the age of 23;
  • the youngest woman to complete a solo flight around the world; and
  • the first woman to fly solo from Africa to Australia, from Australia to Guam via New Guinea, and from Wake to Midway Island

(For a complete list of accolades as compiled by Trixie, click here.)

By the age of seventeen, Joan had already obtained her private pilot’s license and soloed for thirty-five hours. At seventeen, Joan was also the youngest entrant in the All Woman’s International Air Race. By January 1954, Joan joined the Miami chapter of the Ninety-Nines. A few years later, in Florida in 1958, she met Jack Smith, a U.S. Navy officer and pilot. Joan moved to the West Coast, and the two were married in 1960.

By age twenty-three, Joan became the first woman to achieve the Airline Transport Rating (ATR) at the minimum possible age. After completion of her historic world flight in 1964, she tragically died in a plane crash over the mountains of Los Angeles on February 17, 1965.

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